At the time of its release in October of 1980, Rockpile's Seconds of Pleasure was viewed in some quarters as a little disappointing, which shows that there are considerable pitfalls that come with high expectations. There was a reason why the album was highly anticipated. During the late '70s, Rockpile was considered one of the great rock & roll bands, earning a reputation for blowing away every headlining act they played with, and they were just as good on record, acting as the backing band for solo albums by the group's co-leaders, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds. Although they were a strong presence on the road and on the charts, they had yet to release a recording underneath the Rockpile name, so when Seconds of Pleasure finally appeared, fans and critics alike expected a rip-roaring, rampaging rock & roll record, since that's what their live performances were.
What they got was a bit different -- it was still a rock & roll record, but it wasn't down and dirty; it was bright, propulsive, and poppy, filled with big melodic hooks and polished until it glistened. Not what was expected of Rockpile in 1980, perhaps, but time has been nothing but kind to this record and, judged on its own merits, it's one of hell of a good time. At its core, Seconds of Pleasure is an invigorating blend of the strengths of Lowe and Edmunds, who may have had a shared love of pre-Beatles rock & roll -- particularly Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers -- but had very different aesthetics. Edmunds was serious and dedicated to detail, to the point of single-handedly re-creating the sound of Phil Spector and Sun Studios on his early solo albums. On the other hand, there was a reason why Lowe was given the nickname "Basher" -- he loved to get in the studio and bash out the music, preserving the energy, passion, and humor of a band at its peak. Eventually, this caused great conflict between the two -- the band's split was anything but friendly, and a reunion for Lowe's 1990 album, Party of One, was tentative and testy -- but on albums like Nick's Labour of Lust and Dave's Repeat When Necessary (both 1979), it resulted in tremendous music. But both of those records were true solo albums, capturing the personality of each musician.
Seconds of Pleasure is a true band affair, a 12-track album split evenly between the two -- five each for Lowe and Edmunds, with guitarist Billy Bremner taking two lead vocals on "Heart" and "You Ain't Nothin' But Fine" -- and while the alternating sequence of one Nick tune, one Dave song suggests that there might have been some tension between the two in the studio, both benefit from the collaboration. At times, Edmunds' precision and devotion to the past can be a little too dogmatic and rigid, and Lowe lightens him up, while Dave brings focus and a bit of polish to Nick's charmingly ragged pop and rock. As a result, Seconds of Pleasure is both focused and loose, rocking hard but with a savvy pop sensibility. Fittingly, the songs play to Rockpile's strengths as both a pop and rock band, while offering a fitting tribute to their flair for excellent covers. Lowe unearths Gene Chandler's infectious "Teacher Teacher," while Edmunds finds Kip Anderson's "A Knife and a Fork," perhaps the only rock & roll song about overeating, revives the little-known Chuck Berry tune "Oh What a Thrill," and does a barnstorming version of Joe Tex's "If Sugar Was as Sweet as You" -- and with "Wrong Again (Let's Face It)" by Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford of Squeeze, he proves once again that he's a tremendous interpretive singer of new wave pop songs.
But when it comes to pop songs, Nick Lowe rules this album with six of his finest tunes. He digs out Brinsley Schwarz's old anthem "Play That Fast Thing (One More Time)" and "Fool Too Long," which he tried to give to Dr. Feelgood (here, it's sung by Dave), and both sound rowdy and right in Rockpile's hands; he gives the delightful, infectious "Heart" to Bremner, choosing to sleaze it up with the steady-grooving "Pet and Hold You." With "Now and Always" he camouflages a knowing, mordantly funny suicide note with a sighing hook worthy of Buddy Holly, and on "When I Write the Book," with its tongue-in-cheek defeated autobiography, he has a showcase for the best of his wit and songcraft. The great thing about Seconds of Pleasure is how these wonderful Nick moments dovetail with Dave's piledriving rockers, complementing each other and creating a unique rock & roll album that's inspired and informed by the past, but lives for the moment and crackles with energy. Years later, it sounds fresh, exciting, and vibrant. Rockpile didn't leave a large recorded legacy, but nearly everything they did was great, which is easier to see now, after all the initial negative reviews and dashed expectations have faded, leaving behind just the music -- and, frankly, rock & roll doesn't get better than this. [Upon its original CD reissue, Seconds of Pleasure included the four-track EP Nick Lowe & Dave Edmunds Sing the Everly Brothers, which was given away as a 45 with early pressings of the album. It's a wonderful and intimate live-in-the-studio concert, with Nick and Dave coming close to matching the Everlys' harmonies on versions of "Take a Message to Mary," "Crying in the Rain," "Poor Jenny," and "When Will I Be Loved."]